Tensions between Russia and Bulgaria are escalating. Recently, the Bulgarian media started to spread rumours that Russian citizens were involved in several explosions that occurred in Bulgarian military deposits between 2011 and 2020. Apparently, some of the exploded material would be sent to Ukraine and this is the main argument of the Bulgarian investigators to accuse Russia - the possibility to avoid sending arms to Kiev. Also, this occurs a month after the accusation that Russian citizens were involved in explosions in the Czech Republic.
In the past few days, an investigation on possible Russian involvement in explosions in Bulgaria has taken over the media channels. The rumors began on Wednesday, when Bulgarian officials announced their suspicions about Russian involvement in at least four explosions in military deposits in the country over nine years. At least six Russian citizens are suspected of involvement in the cases. In all incidents, some of the weapons stored in the deposits would be destined for military bases in Ukraine or Georgia, which raises suspicions of Russian involvement, according to the Bulgarian authorities. In a statement to the media, the spokeswoman for the Bulgarian prosecutor's office, Siyka Mileva, said: "The collected evidence points so far, with a great degree of credibility, to the conclusion that the aim of the actions of the Russian citizens was to stop the supplies [...] to Georgia and Ukraine. (...) Evidence is being collected on the complicity of these six Russian citizens".
Mileva also reported that the investigations endorse the possible Russian involvement in explosions in the Czech Republic in 2014. The main reason for the suspicion is the same: possible attempt to boycott arms supplies to nations contrary to Russian interests. Mileva’s attitude was not by chance. The announcement of investigations in Bulgaria came only after the Czech Republic revealed that it had discovered Russian involvement in an explosion in a warehouse in 2014, where two people died. Bulgaria then supported the narrative and began investigations into Russian participation in other explosions and suddenly “discovered” Russian sabotage prior to 2014.
The Bulgarian authorities were even bolder and reported that there was a possible link between the explosions and the attempted murder by poisoning of Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev in 2015. One of the companies hit by the explosions in 2011 was Gebrev’s EMCO. The most curious part of the Bulgarian statement is that precisely this explosion is the only "connection" pointed to an accusation as serious as an assassination attempt. There is no concrete evidence or argument that points to a Russian interest in eliminating Gebrev. The fact that an arms dealer does business with Ukrainians and Georgians is not solid evidence for an accusation. Dealers do business all the time and their only interest is based on financial gain, not on ideological alignments or geopolitical strategies. Gebrev is not the only arms supplier to Ukrainians and Georgians and there is no evidence to suggest that he is specifically the target of Russian intelligence - while other suppliers would not be targeted.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov received the words of the Bulgarian authorities with great dissatisfaction and replied ironically: "Either the Bulgarian side knew nothing and only now, after the Czech Republic announced the 2014 incident, decided to outshine the Czechs and look further back into history (...) Or they knew about it for all this time but did not make it public for some reason". As we can see, the main criticism made by Lavrov to the Bulgarian-Czech narrative is the time lapse. In 2021, investigations reportedly discovered Russian involvement in a 2014 incident and, following the announcement of this "discovery", Bulgarian authorities reveal Russian participation in several events since 2011. There is, of course, something questionable about these data.
The fact is that the diplomatic crisis between Moscow and Prague had already started earlier, with a sharp increase in tensions and expulsions of diplomats. Now Bulgaria has openly joined one side and is striving to raise tensions further. In fact, this position on the part of Bulgaria was already predictable, considering the latest developments in relations between the two countries. Prior to investigations into the explosions, Bulgarian authorities recently announced the discovery of an alleged "espionage network", including Russian diplomats in Sofia - which is why two diplomats were expelled from the country last month.
Prague and Sofia set a precedent for all sorts of accusations against Russia. Indeed, if a country can, a decade after an incident, claim that it was an act of sabotage and to point out as guilty another state with which it has strained relations, then any incident can suddenly be "reinvestigated" and its "real culprits" discovered immediately. This means that more accusations against Russia - and other countries - will arise and this will be a new argument for demoralizing, creating tensions and proposing sanctions on the international stage.
By Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
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